Planning a Perennial Shade Garden, Part 2: Unique Shade Perennials

Reader Contribution by Karin Eller
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Unique Shade Perennials

In part one of planning a perennial shade garden we discussed where your new shade garden should be, preparing the planting bed and your zone and shade conditions. Now for the fun part- selecting the plants. Whatever your shade requirement, there is a plant. Instead of just flower color, consider different foliages for texture and color. There are so many under-used shade plants that can brighten any corner and these are just a few suggestions.

Melittis ‘Royal Velvet Distinction’ has beautiful orchid like flowers covering soft green foliage. This partial shade loving plant is wonderful planted enmass. Hardy in zones 5 through 8, it will grow 18 inches tall with a spread of 18 inches. The Melittis is very easy to care for. The bloom time is mid to late Spring. It is a relative of the mint family and can be invasive, but they can be easily transplanted. It is deer resistant.

‘Blushing Bride’ Trandescantia or spiderwort, prefers partial shade. This perennial does not bloom but it has a very uniquely colored foliage. Practically maintenance free it is hardy zones 4 through 9, prefers humusy soil and grows to a height of 12 inches. Works well in rock gardens or as a ground cover.

Astrantia major or Masterwort is a perennial that prefers partial to dry shade. This plant grows to approximately one foot in height, which makes it a good choice for the front of the perennial border. Astrantia bloom all summer long. Companion plants for the Astrantia include Japanese Painted Fern and Purple Palace Heuchera. The reddish color of the Japanese Painted Fern and heuchera will complement the pink flowers of the astrantia.

Corydalis lutea or ‘Yellow Bleeding Heart’ is one of my favorite plants for the shade garden. It prefers partial to full shade and is not picky about soil conditions. The corydalis is deer and rabbit resistant. Great for naturalizing, it will freely seed itself and transplants just as easily. This beauty is covered with yellow flowers early Spring till frost. It reaches approximately one foot in height. Companion plants for the corydalis include Lily Of The Valley, lamium and any variety of fernleaf bleeding heart.

The Brunneras have different varieties that can grow in full sun to shade as long as the soil is moist. The variegated varieties prefer partial shade because the leaves tend to get sun burned. They are hardy from zone 3 to 8. They will bloom from early Spring to early Summer. When planted in a row or around a tree they make a great border. The splays of dainty forget me not like flowers will compliment any Spring flowers. The Brunnera will seed themselves but are not invasive, and easily transplanted. Sweet Woodruff is a nice companion plant, and with the variegated Brunnera varieties will compliment the foliage nicely.

Ligularia ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’ is a great specimen plant for the shade garden. This variety has large purple-brown leaves with golden colored flowers. It can reach up to four feet in height and a spread of three feet, so make sure you give this yellow flowered beauty plenty of room. Hardy zone 4 through 9, It is deer resistant, prefers partial shade and damp woodland soils. Hostas, ferns and dwarf goats beard would work well with this plant.

Just a few helpful hints: Remember to check the height and spread of your perennials before planting. They can get quite large. Mulching will help to keep the weeds down, the soil moist and roots cool. Not enough color in your garden? Intersperse shade loving annuals such as torenias and begonias for season-long color.

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